By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 13, 2005

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Everyone knows how Sunday will go in Foxborough. Why bother to play the game?

Many national "experts"¯ think that this will finally be the breakthrough game for Peyton Manning. Everyone's favorite football player, everyone's most valuable player, everyone's golden boy, Manning will finally get his birthright in 2004, that being a Super Bowl win and a game MVP in the process. And of course, all those experts will romanticize over how wonderful it is that Manning finally got his ring, and what in the world ever took him so long.

And when that inevitable coronation happens, it will be like the last six years never happened. It's like when a man meets Miss Right, life before her never existed in his mind. Manning will wipe the legacies of Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, and all the other great championship quarterbacks in history off the face of the map with one Super Bowl win. He will because he is Peyton Manning, the signature player of today's NFL, the real chosen one (as opposed to Kellen Winslow Jr.), the singular personification of professional football.

Manning set a new record in 2004 with 49 touchdown passes, exceeding Dan Marino's 1984 figure by one. His passer rating for the season was 121.1. It is no mystery that he was chosen the league MVP, and that makes it two years in a row since he shared the award with Steve McNair of Tennessee last year. Face it, Manning is great. Not good. Great. Period.

End of romanticizing. At least in this column. From here on in, as Jack Webb would say on Dragnet, "Just the facts, ma'am!"¯

Those passing numbers stated above make for terrific facts. So do these:

Career record in Foxborough: 0-6.

Career record against Bill Belichick as head coach: 1-6.

Career record against Tom Brady: 0-5.

Number of NFL championships won: 0.

Number of NFL championships won by Unitas: 3.

So there. Manning isn't even the best quarterback in Colt history.

All this talk about Manning and his greatness rings completely hollow until Manning actually does something worth exalting over. So much is made of his gaudy numbers and his terrific offense. But the bottom line is that Manning hasn't really done anything in his career which places him in the highest pantheon of quarterbacks in league history. It is a shame that players like Marino, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon are as revered as they are, because amongst the three of them they possess zero NFL championships. Add Manning to that group and that total does not change.

Of course, all this can change on Sunday if Manning can finally break through and beat the Patriots. The 2004 Red Sox showed us all that huge obstacles can be overcome. Of course Manning can win Sunday.

But will he?

The Patriots have two aces in the hole which have served the team incredibly well for the last four seasons. These aces are proving to be some of the best in recent history, at least since the merger. More time may need to pass before the real legacies of these two aces are cemented. But for now, the NFL knows no better aces than Belichick and Brady.

Together combined, these two men have thwarted Manning at every turn, and should continue to do so on Sunday.

Brady won't intercept any Manning pass or record any sack of Manning (now, Troy Brown, that's another story). But Brady can affect a lot regarding how Manning will approach the game. More significantly, Brady will go into the game with a far less likelihood of doing things to lose the game, and will likely do more things to win the game than Manning will.

Brady is the best game manager in the league. If Charlie Weis orders up a game plan designed to run clock and win the battle of time of possession, Brady will execute it to the letter. The fact that Brady has Corey Dillon in his arsenal makes him even more lethal to the Colts, in that Brady has a back who can control the pace of the game and can take over the game in the fourth quarter when the front seven is tired. Brady's personal discipline will not allow him to make foolish plays which will lead to adverse consequences or turnover deficits.

Manning may still outpass Brady, though such was not the case a year ago in the AFC Championship Game. But Brady will be better able to play to win versus play to run up big passing stats. And if the end game comes down to clutch play by the offense, two of the last three meetings between the teams says that the Patriots make the plays and the Colts don't.

Meanwhile, Belichick has proven time and time again that he can outcoach the Colt staff, and that he can successfully befuddle Manning. Minus his starting cornerbacks, it will be a challenge on Sunday, no doubt. But how do you bet against a coach who has become a literal master in winning despite injuries?

In 2003, the Patriots led the league in injuries, and still went 17-2 with a Super Bowl win. Why should this Sunday be any different?

Face it, if Belichick found a way to shut down the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, if he found a way to go 9-1 since losing Ty Law, if he found a way to give up only three 100-yard rushers (Edgerrin James, Duce Staley, Kevan Barlow) despite losing Ted Washington to free agency, you have to figure that he will find a way to deal with Manning on Sunday with what he has to work with. For a man who has succeeded in preaching his brand of team football, as well as getting his players to excel at "situational football"¯, coming up with the right formula to defeat Indianapolis on Sunday should be in the cards.

Or, to simplify: Things will be going well for the Patriots on Sunday if everyone looks at each other and says "Ty who?"¯

When kickoff takes place on Sunday, the Patriots will be the smarter team. They will know exactly what they will have to deal with and how to deal with it. This is oversimplification at its worst, but there is no other plausible explanation. When it says on paper that the Colts absolutely must win, Belichick will take that paper and turn it into Charmin or Quilted Northern. Belichick will have his team ready to do everything needed to defeat the Colts. Even more impressive is that, if this game were being played in the RCA Dome, you would still have to give the nod to Belichick in getting his team more ready to play than Dungy would his team.

Brady and Belichick are two men who Manning has yet to best in his career. They are the two Patriot aces. Manning and Tony Dungy are merely jacks. Aces win every time.

Realistically, Manning could finally win. It's just not likely in the cards.


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